They say Covid-19 causes you to lose your sense of taste, which is how I know I don’t have it. For weeks politicians, doctors, and scientists have been yelling “Social Distancing” and “Flattening the Curve,” adding in an appropriately politically corrected whisper that one of the reasons the virus is so enamored of the Land of the Free is because we do enjoy ourselves a burger and fries, which means our curves needed flattening long before anybody got sick. “Social Distance From Your Refrigerators!” doesn’t play as well on campaign banners as “Keep away from your aged parents, grandparents, neighbors, friends, children, and anyone you might accidentally run across.” Totally rolls off the tongue.
I should tell you that I’m not thin, and I don’t like photos of myself because they highlight how much I enjoy tacos and tater tots. I have no room to be self-righteous, but I have noticed that all this shelter in place and social distancing has affected my relationship to the whole food business, and I’m thinking I might not be entirely alone. I believe the first clues reside at the grocery store, which you should enter with a mask on your face, and your eyes wide open.
The afternoon the coronavirus news suddenly about-faced from “off in the distance” to “INCOMING,” much of America stampeded to the grocery store snatching up nearly everything except lima beans. That night as I entered Dick’s Market, I was passed by an elderly man leaving on a scooter and calling, “Come get the last food you’ll ever buy!” I laughed, but the Rascal was too fast to share a moment, which is too bad because it may have been the last for a while. Enter the grocery store today and almost nobody makes eye contact.
I know, all you big city slickers out there are saying, “Are you kidding, we never made eye contact,” which is a real pity. Here in Utah a trip to Costco meant running into a good percentage of your acquaintance . . . well, that is to say I saw everyone if I’d forgotten to brush my hair and had paint on my pants. If I’m wearing lipstick and my socks match, I probably won’t see a soul, but lipstick or no at the very least there was a howdy and a moment of conversation. Even strangers aren’t entirely immune to a shared word or smile, what with all the pardons and excuse me’s, and the random comments generated by the kid in the tutu doing backflips out of her mother’s cart. I admit that, for me, grocery shopping has always been rather on par with cleaning the fish tank, but it has always been a somewhat communal experience. I kind of miss that.
During my recent coronatime trip to Costco I pushed my giant Costco cart around in my usual pattern, fruits and vegetables first, which is probably the stupidest arrangement I could choose because it places the avocados in the dim real estate under the giant Costco eight pack tuna I’m sure to pick up on the other side of the store. I generally get to the tuna just before I grow weak and shamefacedly sneak the chocolate caramel macadamia nuts into the cart before panting to the finish line at the checkout counter. With the exception of my moments staring in awe at the mountain of toilet paper piled in the first aisle, I did all the normal things, among all the same demographic of people, yet it wasn’t the same, and all of us were hiding.
It really makes no sense. I took up the same space as I did before, my chocolate macadamias were right there on top of the tuna, squishing the avocados as usual, but I could have been forgiven for believing I was invisible. I don’t know if it’s the face mask, or the virus, or a combination of the two, but it seems to have convinced us that as long as we don’t look at each other we’re successfully social distancing, and therefore safe. We make fun of ostriches for burying their heads in the sand to avoid danger, which is odd since ostriches don’t actually do that. But small human children do often believe themselves invisible when they close their eyes, reasoning that if they can’t see the threat, it cannot see them. Coronavirus has made me wonder if we perhaps don’t entirely outgrow the idea.
My daughter, Abby, isn’t keen on the grocery store and rarely sets foot inside under the best of circumstances. But my son, Porter, can be bribed with salt and vinegar chips, so he’s my go to corona shopping buddy, which is how he managed to produce a 1.17 pound bag of bubble gum on Saturday evening, something I never even noticed go into the cart on Friday afternoon. “It’s for jaw strength,” he said seriously. 1.17 Pounds of Gum. That can only happen when your cart is a bit full.
We all know it’s inadvisable to go to the grocery store hungry. I know because I get rushing through my to do list, forgetting I haven’t had time to eat, right up until the shocking moment when I walk into Dicks and smell the baked bread and brisket that’s fresh out of the smoker. I don’t know it yet, but I’m already done for. I do control myself as I pass the smoked meats and the bakery, and yet at the checkout counter my cart has mysteriously filled with all kinds of Boy That Looks Good because everyone knows that putting a package in your cart will magically make your stomach quit growling. Now let’s convert the phenomenon to coronatime. We’ll call it split personality shopping.
A grocery store is a possible point of infection, so I go to the store knowing I can’t go back just because I forgot the tater tots. Consequently, as I wander the aisles not looking at anyone, I have at least two people wearing my clothes. There’s the woman with the list and menu plan methodically ticking through items aisle by aisle, and another creature with glasses askew and hair sticking up in horns and spikes all over her head. This is Me and Future Me. Me knows what she needs to do and just wants to complete her task in peace. Future Me can’t stop talking. “I don’t know, I’m fine now, but what if 24 hour me would sell her soul for two crunchy Cheetos. Apples, I love apples, do I have enough in case I want to make a pie? Whipping cream, what if somebody wants hot chocolate? I’ll need to whip some cream, and cinnamon, do I need cinnamon? Hot chocolate is better with cinnamon. Tortillas . . . do we have ketchup, why didn’t I check . . .” Future Me says a thousand words to Me’s one in the hope that she can predict all eventualities, making sure everyone in the house has everything they might possibly need until the magic someday when I enter the store again.
Once Me and Future Me have tug-a-warred through the store, we drag home our groaning grocery bags only to be faced with a new dilemma. Home, home, rarely to roam, 24 hours, 48, 72 . . . want a chocolate caramel macadamia to break up the monotony? Don’t mind if I do. How many hours until food becomes part of the entertainment? Not many apparently.
Integrating food and entertainment certainly isn’t new. In fact, we can be stuffed full from dinner, only to walk into a theater and find our mouths watering for popcorn our stomachs could not possibly accommodate. In America having fun means having food, it’s in the Bill of Rights and seems to apply no matter where we wander. In China the time zone meant our live Super Bowl party was at something absurd like Monday morning at 6:00 a.m., and still everyone arrived bearing platters heaped with more sweets and savories than anyone normally wants to know exist at such an hour.
Porter integrates the best, making a pot of ratatouille so he can eat it while watching the Disney movie about the foodie rat who just don’t get no respect, timing his bite for the moment the supercilious food critic tastes Remi the rat’s creation for the first time. Porter’s ratatouille is delicious, and has the added benefit of making us sound all high class and vegetarian, but don’t forget the chocolate caramel macadamias, and the bubble gum, and the popcorn, and whatever else Future Me may have packed into this house just in case.
Fortunately, Me is gaining the upper hand over Future Me, so the chocolate caramel macadamias are giving way before homemade corn chowder and kung pao chicken. Me genuinely does love fruits and vegetables, when Future Me isn’t talking too fast and making Me forget. Me was actually feeling pretty good about her progress, until giant cookies appeared through no fault of Me own.
My sister, Roni, and her husband, Matt, have just gotten a very tiny new teacup yorkie puppy named Gadget, and the celebration clearly required Crumbl cookies, which are basically Disneyland in a box, i.e. the Happiest Place on Earth, until you get the bill.
Crumbl bakery also demonstrated that my grocery store theory may have its limits as outside the door three separate groups independently proclaimed, “Hang the pandemic, there’s a puppy afoot!” “Can we pet your puppy? Can we pet your puppy?” They tumbled forward, unmasked, making eye contact, saying words, weeks of social distancing unraveling in the face of a miniature furball who feels weightless in your hand. It’s heartening to know the people are still in there, itching to come out.
After Crumbl the next stop was my house, and at the end of the night Roni said, “We’ll just leave the cookies here.” Me protested without success, but crazy-haired Future Me went to bed happy, sleepily muttering her final words of the day, “Don’t worry, we have cookies.”